Question: My Mom died recently leaving a Will, a few assets, and a bunch of debt.  I filed for probate and received many claim letters from creditors.  How do I decide who gets paid if there is not enough money?

Answer: Fortunately, you don’t have to decide whose debt is more important.  The probate law provides a list of creditor classes, sorted by priority.

If the applicable assets of the estate are insufficient to pay all claims in full, the personal representative (formerly known as the executor) shall make payment in the following order:

(1) costs and expenses of administration – this is the most group: a) your lawyer and b) you as personal representative;

(2) reasonable funeral expenses;

(3) debts and taxes with preference under federal laws;

(4) reasonable and necessary medical and hospital expenses of the last illness of the decedent, including compensation of persons attending the decedent;

(5) debts and taxes with preference under other laws of the commonwealth;

(6) debts due to the division of medical assistance – mostly for nursing home reimbursement;

(7) all other claims – such as basic credit cards.

So, pay your lawyer and yourself first.  Take any money left and consider the classes of the remaining creditors.  Match them up on this list and pay from the top down.  You may wish to wait a year, and see if any creditors file suit.  Non-Government creditors who don’t sue, cannot recover.

Just don’t listen to debt collectors who say you will be responsible for any deficiency.  Only estate assets are liable to creditors.  Not your assets.

Attorney James Haroutunian practices real-estate law, estate planning and probate at 790 Boston Road, Billerica. He gladly invites questions at james@hlawoffice.com or by phone at 978-671-0711. His website blog is found at prioritylaw.com and www.hlawoffice.com

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